ESTACADA, Ore. — The Riverside Fire destroyed parts of the Mt. Hood National Forest more than a year ago but several businesses in Estacada continue to feel its impact. A portion of Highway 224 has been closed since September 2020, blocking the way to recreation areas in the Mt. Hood National Forest. Since the city of Estacada relies so heavily on tourism for its local economy, the highway closure has limited cash flow to the area.
Luke Spencer and his wife have run their downtown Estacada shop, Clackamas River Outfitters since 2015. They sell paddling products and offer rentals for outdoor water activities. Spencer said it was the Highway 224 closure, not the pandemic, that caused a setback for their business.
"As the pandemic hit, we actually were doing fairly well," Spencer said. "With being able to recreate outside and rentals, folks could go out and paddle and be distant from one another."
Sixteen months after it was first shut down, 19 miles of Highway 224 is still closed, cutting off tourism to the area.
"In the winter, we rely on the winter boating traffic to create revenue for a business," Spencer said. "Without the availability of access to the river, those folks just aren’t coming out here. They are going to other rivers, which doesn’t bring them through Estacada and doesn’t bring them into our shop."
Spencer said revenue for his business is down about 85%. After the past two winters, he wants to know if and when the highway will reopen.
The Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) said they won't be able to reopen the highway for a while. Don Hamilton, a spokesperson for ODOT, said a lot of work still needs to be done. Crews are still putting in new guardrails, replacing damaged signs, and some ditches still need to be cleared. Hamilton wouldn’t even give an estimate of a timeline, saying ODOT can’t open the highway until they determine it’s safe.
"We know it’s been difficult for everybody in the neighborhood there, but bear with us for a little bit longer," Hamilton said. "We’ll get it opened as soon as we can."
The continued uncertainty could mean a temporary shutdown for Clackamas River Outfitters, Spencer said.
"We’re hoping we don’t have to do that, but we’re taking whatever measures we need to make sure we can make it through this and make it on the other side still here," he said.
Spencer started a Facebook group called Open Highway 224 and is asking local businesses to help raise awareness.,